Nobuyuki Sakakibara and Scott Coker held a press conference to for Rizin 40 (Bellator MMA vs Rizin) on Wednesday December 20th. Taking place New Years Eve in Japan at Saitama Super Arena, this is a ground breaking event as it host the best both organizations have to offer, fighting for the honor of their promotion.
The brain child of Rizin President Sakakibara, it is a throwback to when armies would send their champions to face off in place of the battalions fighting. The world just converged on Qatar to cheer on their nations teams. This has the feel of an MMA World cup. With the exception of the first fight (Koji Takeda vs Gadzhi Rabadanov) each match up is Champion vs. Champion. These men have either held Grand Prix or full divisional titles for their organization. To allow each promotion the freedom to promote their product, the only titles on the line will be for bragging rights.
I asked if there would be any trophy's or other rewards for the victorious organization. Due to recent events with MMA betting in the US, there are no financial wagers being placed between presidents. Scott Coker does have something in mind he would not reveal to me during the press conference, but said he would share when the time was right.
For nearly 20 years, MMA on New Years Eve has been a tradition in Japan. Martial Arts is in the fabric of the land of the Rising Sun. Scott Coker said, "Where else can you go and get 30,000 fans on New Years Eve?" Though individual athletes, each fighter is proud to carry the banner of their promotion and compete as a team. Coker said, "It's 5-on-5 the best fighting the best. It's a historical event and that's why people are so excited."
Often you hear of conflict between fight promoters, but since its inception, Rizin has provided a showcase for Bellator fighters. This is due to the Presidents friendship that goes back to the 2000's. They often traded fighters when Sakakibara was the head of Pride and Coker of Strikeforce. Scott said that Sakakibara saved Strikeforce when they didn't have a main card by sending Alistair Overeem to face Vitor Belfort in 2006. He never forgot it and wanted to reciprocate whenever he could.
Sakakibara feels this is a great opportunity to launch his fighters on a global stage. Since this is hosted by Rizin, their apparatus (ring) will be used as will their expanded rule set. This is not a one off either. The promotions are in talks of doing another, possibly in Hawaii in a cage and under the unified rules. As competitors, both Presidents predict they will go 5-0. Regardless of the wins and losses, the MMA community is the greatest winner. Stateside we get to experience a spectacle full of pageantry and top tier fights to close out 2022.